The Theme Of Racism And Violence In Maya Angelou’s Poetry

Maya Angelou, also known as Marguerite Annie Johnson, was an award winning American poet and a civil rights activist, who is best known for her poets and memoir, was born on April 4, 1928 in the state of Arkansas. She is best known for her seven famous autobiographical books and poems which explores the overall theme of racism, and having power over the society. Gun violence is one of the most important factor that contributed to the majority of the incident that took place in the early 1900 hundreds and in today’s society such as shooting mascaras, and the ability to get a hold of a gun so easily especially among teenagers. During this time period violence was a key role that took part in the society due to race, color, and/or religion. This factors affects problems that people face on a day to day basis and As a result of this, gun violence was one of the prominent subject that affected the way she wrote and portrayed her feelings that she had in the majority of the poems she wrote.

Maya Angelou had many influences in her lifetime such as coming from the experience of being and growing up in an African American community with all the violence happening left and right around the streets. Another reasons it persuaded her to write poems relating to the theme of violence, racism, and power is by her personal experiences by facing problems with the white’s being superior in the 1900 hundreds. Some of the famous poets and writers such as Thomas Wolfe, Anne Spencer, Frances Harper, and many more influenced and promoted her to write, but one of the famous and well known poet, Edgar Allen Poe, often grabbed her attention as a child. This are just some of the way she influenced herself to write autobiographies and the poems that she did about violence and power. Two of her best poems that promoted these themes of power, violence and racism is “Still I Rise” and “These yet to be United States” written in the late 1900’s hundreds.

“Still I Rise” is an autobiographical poetry written based on Maya Angelou’s life after the end of segregation and during the time of civil rights movement, showing her opinion and contribution on the factors of violence, especially violence happening to due people having an easy access and ability to use gun. This poem’s rhythms and rhyme scheme is free verse, and trochaic/dactylic tetrameter. It is written in a-b-c-b meter until the last two stanzas is written in a-b-a-b rhyme scheme. The title “Still I Rise” portrays a great example of no matter of what happens, she will always rise above. The overall of theme of the poem is race and racism portrayed by having confidence and discrimination happening among the people in the society, by talking about bringing down the black women but this violence never stooped them from being above and rising above everyone. This is also one of the ways it persuaded her to write this poem. Throughout the poem, she used a lot of figurative language such as simile, imagery, strong encouraging diction, repetition, and a strong massage for her audience at the end of the poem. She begins the poem with the word “You” showing oppression to everyone, but she is mainly relating it to the white people who didn’t have faith and believed in the African American women during that time period, showing that even though they didn’t have the sole proprietorship power among them, they still had their head up and believed in themselves. She uses simile, in line 4 and 9, portraying her tone of confidence, by raising herself up like the moon and the sun, she implies that they rise everyday no matter what or how the day is, so she personally feels and thinks that she is able to do that the same no matter how bad the racism and gun violence has disgraced the society. Maya Angelou also used various connotation of negative, bold, and harsh diction to connect to her audience on a personal level on how they would feel about the violence. She uses the word “trod” portraying a negative connotation showing on how people have crushed and downgraded her values but she will still rise above. An example of bold diction is used by her using words like “ Sassiness”, “ haughtiness”, and “sexiness” to characterize her life and how she felt as an African American women, who is going through a lot among all the violence that is taking place, and how this is all necessary for her to have to be bold and to have power among the society, and lastly she uses words like, “ shoot”, “cut”, and “kill” as an harsh diction to show other that they have power in the society to emphases the brutal punishment that people have went through due to the violence that is faced from racism, and discrimination. Lastly, to end her poem with a memorable and powerful message for her audience, she uses repetition of the word “I rise” to portray her strong and positive tone of strength and confidence. She intends to let go and leave the violence especially which is led by racism, discrimination, and terror. Even though, violence is going to continue to happen on an everyday basis which led to a tremendous number of death, but she still ends the poem with a positive ending message of having power and confidence over the society.

The Second Poem by Maya Angelou that portrays the theme of power and violence is “These yet to be United States”. This poem describes the sole authority and power of the United States and the people in it and it also explains why having too much power is not always a good thing for someone to have. This implies that if someone have too much power of something like a gun, theta are able to cost too much violence not only against them, but to the society around them too, and they will also misuse them against something. In this poem, Maya Angelou is afraid of having too much power of nuclear weapons that it would lead to a third world war, in the near future. The title of poem could be interpreted into many different ways, but the most obvious meaning that could be interpreted is that the use of the word “United” in the title shows a picture of a way the society was set up and was running at that time period, portraying that they could not call them united due to all this violence taking place. Throughout the poem, she uses various powerful and poetic devices like rhyme scheme, metaphor and etc. one example of metaphor is used in the last stanza, when she uses terms like “whitened castles”, and “deep and poisoned moats” to refer to and make an modern analogy to the White House and refer to the corruption that take place in it to have a outcome for the society later on for the better. The overall tine that is presented in this poem is dismay towards the higher authority such as the government to take a part in the action and violence that is all taking place. She also connects the concept of distress with the other nations and ends the poem with talking about the problems that people face every day from having too much power among each other in America. Lastly, the overall theme of the poem is power and that having too much power in today’s society is not always a good thing and that could lead to violence and fear of war in the future.

Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the U.S. Guns kill more than 38,000 people and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year. These weapons are responsible for a minority of gun deaths in the US, but have become the weapon of choice for the assailant whose intent is chaos and casualties. Some of the violence that could be incorporated in it would be suicide, homicide, massacre shooting, and violence that could be related to bullying, race, racism, or a person’s religion. Sometimes it may or may not be considered as a crime to own a gun, but the use or an attempt to use it illegally or in a wrong doing way may be considered a huge crime. Some of the reasons why having guns could be a bad thing, even though guns are supposed to be carried for their own safety and precaution, but people use it a non responsible way to scare and threated the society is by doing robbery, shooting, suicide, kidnapping, and much more. It is so easy to get guns these days for teenagers, adults, and/or illegal immigrants because people sale it to under the table to friends and family for a cheaper price and to earn money, without the authority knowing. This scenarios happens more than we know or more than we could think of. This is very dangerous for the society not knowing who has a weapons, and if he/she is responsible and capable of obtaining a huge responsibility of carrying a deadly weapon like that. All in all, Gun is a necessities for most of the citizens making them feel protected and powerful with the authority of a weapon, but the responsibility that comes with it should be taken care of with what is right and what is wrong to do.

Many of the incidents that has happened relating to gun violence is among teenagers getting a hold of a weapons so easily, and also knowing where the guns is in their house or their car. More than 75 percent of first and second graders know where their parents keep their firearms and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports. More than 80 percent of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were kept in the home of the victim, a relative, or a friend. Also youngsters are able to buy a weapon so easily has resulted in a various massacre of shooting, and etc. in schools due to religion, race, racism, or just having the power to obtain a weapon. Only 13 states require a background check to be performed no matter how a gun is sold or what kind of gun it is, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and also in most states guns can be sold to private parties like friends under the table without background check. 40 percent of guns sold in the U.S. are still sold with “no questions asked,” according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. One of the example of a massacre of violence that was done by a nineteen year old teen was on February 4, 2018, opened fire at Marjory Stone man Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing several students and staff members. In resulted of this he was expelled from the school and faced the authority. This is a great example of a teen who had the power of a weapon to use, and miss used his power. This brings up a lot of questions on how he got hold up a weapon and also why he did what he did, it may be cause of behavioral issues or due to a problem he might had with one if the student or a staff member. Last but not least, this brings up a lot of scare among the students and staff members in every school to promote everyone’s safety and to have a better security in case of an incident or a violence like this never happens again.

Since getting a hold of a gun is very easy among people this days, it may also lead to attacks that may be based on terrorism such as the 9/11 attack in New York. This shows that they were able to obtain a hold of a weapon so easily to how their power to the citizens of the United States. 9/11 attacks, series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed in 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda against targets in the United States, the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil in U.S. history. The attacks against New York City and Washington, D.C., caused extensive death and destruction and triggered an enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism. Some 2,750 people were killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania; all 19 terrorists died, and more than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed. This attack shaped a how the United States is today and how people take massacre and incidents more serious which deals with violence, especially violence related to gun. Last but not least, another example of a gun violence that affected a lot of people in the U.S. is the Orlando Nightclub Shooting, which took place in June 2, 2016 by Omar Mateen, a 29 year old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside a nightclub (Orlando Nightclub Shooting). Incidents like this shows and concerns people on the issues about violence that is always led by a gun. There has been many court cases in the past about issues relating to gun violence such as, District of Columbia v Heller, and there are several cases pending today concerning the issues on gun violence and why there is an increase number of violence every day.

Gun violence has had a lot of effect on people especially in today’s society due to all in incidents and massacres that has been happening lately in school, clubs, and movie theaters, but it also had a lot of effect on poets such as Maya Angelou. She portrayed her personal opinion and feelings in the poems that she wrote, such as “Still I rise” and “These Yet to Be United States”. In the poem “Still I Rise” she portrayed the theme of race, racism, and discrimination that happened due to violence in general and people having too much power. It took place in the early 1900’s hundreds during the civil right movement. She promoted to never give up and always rise above with strong and positive confidence. “These Yet to Be United States”, an another poem by Maya Angelou which promotes that people having a lot of power and authority over something can lead to a bad things and decision that people may make to hurt others. Both of this poems, is connected to and has a lot in common to the problems that people face today with gun violence, causing people to make bad choices and not only hurting themselves but also putting others in danger by doing shooting, robberies, massacres, attacks, and making illegal choices. Scenarios and incidents like this is portrayed a lot in poetry and poems.

In conclusion, Maya Angelou, famous American Poet and a civil right activists, wrote many autobiographical books, and poems by exploring the theme of racism, and violence. Two of her famous poems which incorporated this was “Still I Rise”, and “Theses Yet to Be United States”. This two poems showed the power of confidence, and the authority of what a weapons like gun can do to others. These two poems are very similar to the factors of gun violence, that majority of the people face today. Gun violence is a major factor that is contributed on an everyday basis by mainly teens who gets a hold of a gun easily, causing them to make bad decisions. All in all, Poets like Maya Angelou, promoted against violence in her two famous poems, “Still I Rise” and “These Yet to Be United States”. 

16 December 2021
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